The U.S. State Department designated the Confucius Institute’s U.S. Center (CIUS) as a Chinese foreign mission on Thursday, Aug. 13, amid tensions between the two countries.

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced, “For more than four decades, Beijing has enjoyed free and open access to American society, while denying the same access to Americans and other foreigners in China.”

“Furthermore, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has taken advantage of America’s openness to undertake large-scale and well-funded propaganda efforts and influence operations in this country,” the statement said.

The CIUS is “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms,” Pompeo wrote in the statement, emphasizing that the United States wants to guarantee students they can learn the Chinese language and other cultural offerings but will be free from the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The Confucius Institutes are study centers that operate as partnerships with local universities to promote the Chinese language as well as Chinese culture as a tool of ‘soft power’ to enhance the image of the CCP abroad.

According to the BBC, the first Confucius Institute was opened in 2004 in South Korea. According to the official data at the end of 2018 there were 548 Confucius Institutes worldwide, as well as 1,193 Confucius classrooms in primary and secondary schools.

In the United States there are about 75 Confucius Institutes that are active.

Several Western scholars have referred to these institutes as a project that threatens freedom of thought and expression in education. 

Under the pressure of criticism, the CCP hopes to change the name of the Confucius Institute. Last month it was reported that Confucius Institute’s operations would be transferred to a nongovernmental organization called the China Foundation for International Education.

As Real Clear Education indicated, the Confucius Institutes will continue to be subject to the same restrictions and pressure to conform to the dictates of the CCP. They will continue to meet the objectives of maintaining outposts on U.S. campuses.

The Global Times, a media outlet funded by the Chinese Communist Party, denounced the measure decreeing the Confucius Institutes as foreign missions, noting that such a decision will have a long-term impact and make the universities hesitant to cooperate with them.

The State Department argues that the measure is intended to ensure that U.S. teachers and administrators can make decisions about whether programs should be allowed to continue.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the measure would require study centers to make statements about staff and property, allowing U.S. officials to have greater clarity about their operations.

As reported by Fox News, the institutes have been accused of spreading Beijing’s views on issues such as Tibet and the Tiananmen Square massacre.